Nursing Among Friends
By Pamela Kock
When I was eight months pregnant with my son, I attended a breastfeeding class given by my local baby-friendly (UNICEF-certified) hospital. It was wonderful; I learned a lot and gained confidence. But one thing they didn't teach in that class was how to breastfeed around people who had never known a nursing mom.
"Breastfeeding in Public" wasn't covered in the curriculum. Actually, I never had any qualms about nursing my baby in public -- in the mall, at the zoo, at the playground. I'm not particularly shy about my body, and the reactions of strangers didn't bother me in the least. Strangely, the hardest times I had nursing my son were the moments I shared with friends and family. The problem was that very few of my acquaintances actually breastfed their babies. Those who did breastfeed only did so for a few weeks.
Determined not to let breastfeeding interfere with my social life, I proudly brought my son along everywhere with me. If he needed to nurse, I wasn't about to slink off into a private place to do it. After all, I wouldn't need privacy to feed him a bottle, and I didn't want to miss out on the fun. The only concessions I made were when I was very new at breastfeeding and needed to concentrate, and when I visited my in-laws. Breastfeeding made my husband's parents uncomfortable, and fighting that wasn't worth the effort.
My daughter and I were in the habit of taking an evening stroll around the neighborhood during the summer months, and sometimes she'd stop to play with other kids while I chatted with their parents. Since my son nursed quite frequently, this meant I'd usually have to nurse him while we were out, sometimes sitting on a neighbor's front porch. I felt like I was "educating" the entire neighborhood.
I could just imagine their conversations after I left. "You know that woman, the one who lives on Oak Street, with that little blonde-haired daughter? She came over and BREASTFED her baby, right here in the front yard!"
The real challenge, however, was visiting my friends. One friend, who had nursed her son for about six weeks, loudly announced to me that she thought I was way too indulgent. My son was about six months old then, and she kept telling me this till he was two; at that point I think she just gave up. Another friend -- my oldest friend -- actually shuddered in disgust when I told her I was nursing. Then there was the Fourth of July party; many of our friends were there. I retreated indoors to nurse, where it was cool. A steady stream of partygoers passed by, all doing a double-take when they saw what I was doing. The comments were, in retrospect, priceless.
When we moved, my son was about thirteen months old. I greeted the new neighbors, finding a street full of kids. We moms gathered for card games while the kids played, and my sleepy boy spent a lot of time on my lap underneath my shirt. One of the moms said that nursing wasn't worth the effort, so she never tried. Another mom said it was too painful, so she stopped quite early. But since it didn't interrupt the game too much, nobody minded. Nobody, that is, until my next-door neighbor joined us. I like her a lot; we're friends now. But when she realized what I was doing, she freaked out, actually got up and went home!
"Nothing against you, but I just can't sit next to someone doing that."
I felt awful. I was trying so hard to fit in with this new group of people, and turning your new next-door neighbor against you doesn't exactly bode well for the future. Suddenly, the weight of my chosen parenting style, and its implications, hit me. When all these people said they didn't mind if I breastfed while chatting on their porch, sitting on their couch, or at the card table, did they really mean it? Or was the act of nourishing and nurturing my son social suicide, and I was too blind to notice?
My son is almost three now, and following his cues, we've been weaned for about four months. The only friends I've lost weren't worth having in the first place. One of the moms at that neighborhood card game doesn't live here anymore; I remain on very friendly terms with the other two. Our other friends don't seem to feel any different toward us and, as far as I can tell, my in-laws approve of me about as much as they ever did.
So, stick to your beliefs, ladies. Babies don't stay babies for long, and breastfeeding is such a short-lived experience that we shouldn't worry about how our friends, acquaintances, and family members react while we're doing it. Do it for yourself, do it for your children, and hold the rest of the world to a high standard of acceptance. You'll be an example for the next breastfeeding mom these folks encounter -- maybe she'll be met with less resistance, and someday soon breastfeeding will be the norm instead of the exception.
Pamela Kock is a freelance writer, mother of two, and editor of IndoorJungle.net, the Indoor Gardener's Web-zine.
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